Message from the Chairperson
Elvin Ivan Uy, Chairperson, FSSI, and Executive Director, Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP)
Today, September 6, 2022, the Foundation for a Sustainable Society, Inc. (FSSI) celebrates its 27th anniversary.
The Foundation’s roots can be traced back to a vigorous and sustained campaign by Philippine and Swiss civil society organizations (CSOs) in the early 1990s, bannering the petition that development requires debt relief. This campaign led to one of the two debt-for-development swaps in the Philippines after the Martial Law regime and resulted to the building of the Foundation.
Switzerland cancelled the Philippines’ export credit debts, and a counterpart fund amounting to 455 million pesos, or half of the cancelled debt, was then put up to finance projects meant to assist in the development of enterprises of marginalized sectors. FSSI draws its social investments from this endowment fund, which it was tasked to manage since 1995. To date, FSSI’s investments have benefitted over 280 micro, small and medium enterprises effecting positive social and environmental impact in their communities. Above all, this achievement is what we are most proud of as we turn 27 today.
However, while we look at our Foundation as a viable model for creative debt relief, it was but one of the many steps taken to repair a broken economy after the widespread corruption and mismanagement of public debt during the martial law years.
Meanwhile, in recent years, the country’s heavy borrowing culminated to an outstanding national debt of 12.79 trillion in June 2022 from only 6.09 trillion in 2016. There were particularly high borrowings by the government to fight COVID-19 and address its impact. Yet, economist Men Sta. Ana, in a learning session at FSSI, found the provision of social assistance during the pandemic insufficient, and the government’s pandemic response inefficient. He said that there was good reason for the economic managers to exercise fiscal prudence as politicians are prone to aggressive spending on activities other than pandemic response.
He also noted that the higher levels of borrowing won’t necessarily lead to a debt crisis. Nevertheless, it was pointed out that the current administration needs to address the high debt level and eventually narrow the budget deficit. In the proposed 5.2 trillion peso budget for 2023, 1.6 trillion pesos or nearly a third is allocated to service local and foreign debt. While the government considers our current debt position “manageable”, the huge amount that is appropriated for debt servicing could have been allocated instead to social and economic services and public investments to reduce poverty. One way or another, it is the poor that continues to suffer from enormous debts owed by the country.
In our experience at FSSI, the economic empowerment of socially and economically disadvantaged communities creates a pathway out of poverty. FSSI’s resources poured into social enterprise projects translate exponentially to workers transformed to decision-makers and owners of their own enterprises, and the poor being able to participate in the value chain. Social enterprises, even without systematic government support, are already present and playing key roles in strategic economic subsectors including muscovado sugar, organic rice and vegetables, coffee, cacao, and banana, among others. Continued and institutionalized support is needed for these enterprises to continue to flourish, help attain food security, and advance genuine agricultural development in the country.
This is why – along with other civil society groups, social entrepreneurs, and advocates – we continue to campaign for the passage of the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Bill in Congress. The PRESENT Bill aims to put in place an enabling policy environment for the social enterprise sector to grow.
We strongly believe that supporting social enterprises that engage the poor as partners and stakeholders will help improve lives and lead to self-reliance. The debt-for-development swap was initiated in the same spirit. This too resonates with the thrust of Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), as well as the other organizations that are part of FSSI.
Finally, FSSI has been successful at demonstrating that creative debt relief works to diminish poverty. But debt, in itself, should not create poverty. This starts with the government’s effective and responsible management of funds from either revenue or debt, and the crafting of policies that truly serve the poor. To ensure this, civil society organizations and citizens need to demand transparency and accountability.
The Foundation has reached another milestone today, and still, a lot remains to be done. Our partners are growing and so do our team and programs, so that we could better serve more partner social enterprises. These are challenging times, but that is all the more reason to strive for our social mission.
I echo Ms. Rory Tolentino, who was then PBSP Executive Director and FSSI’s first Chairperson, in her hopes for FSSI – “suntok sa buwan, but let us reach for the moon, because we need to always reach for the moon, and yet stay grounded.”
So now we continue to ground ourselves, aim high, and reach out.